I’m writing from New York City today – I’m here with my family for a couple of weeks, in conjunction with the paperback release of Playing Big. I am enraptured by this city as always.
A few weeks ago I was chatting with a friend. She was recounting the latest chapter in her extended family’s ongoing drama (think: sibling rivalries, slammed doors at holiday gatherings, and so on).
When she finished relaying the recent events, I started to give her my opinion on one aspect of the situation.
“You know, hon?” she said, “I think I just want to talk through what happened – I don’t have space to think about what to do about it yet.”
“Got it,” I said.
I felt a little embarrassed, for a moment, that I’d thrown an unwanted opinion at her. But mostly, I felt grateful 1) that she knew what she wanted from our conversation and 2) that she had the courage to tell me.
What was happening in that moment was a short meta-conversation .
A meta-conversation is a discussion about the kind of conversation you want to have (and the kind you don’t want to have). It’s a way of setting parameters and intentions for the conversation. Most of us never get the memo on meta-conversations which is, namely: have them!!
In last week’s post, we explored six different kind of conversation you might want to have, and talked about why it can be helpful to clarify what kind of conversation you are having. A meta-conversation is how you do that.
Like my friend did, in a meta-conversation, you can share with someone what kind of support you’d like, or what kind you wouldn’t like.
You might say, “I’d love for you to help me sort through what I’m really thinking about this. I’m just not clear on what I really think and feel about it.”
Or “I’m not sure what happened in this situation, and I’d love an outside perspective. Can you give me your sense of what’s going on here?”
Are you noticing there’s an interesting step that has to come first, before you say that.
You have to know what kind of support you want! A lot of us have no practice at discerning this. But it’s pretty simple to get going with. You simply pause, turn your attention inward for a moment, and ask yourself “What kind of support do I want here? What do I need for my next step in processing this?”
And then you ask for that kind of conversation.
Of course, not every conversation needs a meta-conversation. And of course, sometimes we get a different kind of support from someone than we wanted and it’s super helpful, but far more often, we each do have some wise sense of what we need, emotionally, around what we’re sharing about. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with all the other kinds of support another person could give us, it’s just that those other kinds don’t necessarily soothe what needs to be soothed in us, or supply what is lacking.
On the other side of things, when a friend comes to you sharing a difficult situation in her life, you can always initiate the meta-conversation. Ask her, “What kind of support do you want from me in this conversation – just listening, or my advice, or something else?” Then you can show up with the kind of support she’s most craving.
Did you have a meta-conversation recently? How did it go? If not, in what situations can you start to use them?
Love to you,